Ms. Kennedy, the former first daughter who was nominated by President Obama to serve in her first official government post, was greeted warmly by senators of both parties.
"I am conscious of my responsibility to uphold the ideals he represented – a deep commitment to public service, a more just America, and a more peaceful world," she said of her father, President John F. Kennedy.
"As a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific, he had hoped to be the first sitting president to make a state visit to Japan. If confirmed as ambassador, I would be humbled to carry forward his legacy in a small way and represent the powerful bonds that unite our two democratic societies," she said.
The Associated Press called the questioning of Kennedy “gentle.” The whole exercise lasted just an hour and 20 minutes.
If confirmed – when lawmakers will vote truly remains the only looming matter – she would be the first woman to hold the position. Other notables have served as ambassador to Japan, including former Vice President Walter Mondale and Howard Baker, the former US senator and chief of staff for President Reagan.
Kennedy would replace John Roos, a Silicon Valley attorney and Obama fundraiser.
A New Yorker, attorney, and mother of three, Kennedy has toyed with pursuing public posts before. She abandoned a bid for the US Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton when the latter became secretary of State (it was ultimately filled by then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D)). In that effort, Kennedy was clumsy, showing a decided inability to navigate the media circus around her, and she was perceived more generally as lacking a passion for the job.
But ambassadorships usually go to a president’s top political donors and individuals of some social note. And Kennedy, who endorsed Mr. Obama over Ms. Clinton during the heated 2008 Democratic nomination fight, is certainly suited on both counts.
Lawmakers were polite in their querying of her. And, as is often the case when Kennedy is involved, there is always the sense of her historic star power – which is enhanced, if that’s possible, as America readies to observe the 50-year mark of her father’s death this fall.
"You have a good sense of what national interests are," said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee.
In introducing her, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York mentioned that Kennedy and one of her daughters recently swam three miles in the Hudson River for charity.
“Her passion to do right and do good burns so strongly within her,” Senator Schumer said. “Thank you for the privilege. It’s truly a privilege.”
Sen. Edward Markey (D), who represents the Kennedy family’s home state of Massachusetts, also gushed. “You are the pluperfect embodiment of someone who has dedicated her life to helping others,” he said.
One Washington Post piece recounting the hearing is headlined: “Kisses for Caroline Kennedy at Senate committee.”
“There’s nobody in either party in this country who won’t return a call from Caroline Kennedy,” former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Thursday morning during an appearance on MSNBC.
Meanwhile, Vicki Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy, attended the hearing to show her support for the senator’s niece. So did Caroline Kennedy’s husband, Edwin Schlossberg. Japan's ambassador to the United States, Kenichiro Sasae, also made an appearance.
Though Kennedy, also an author of several bestselling books, would fulfill an affinity among the Japanese for a celebrity-like figure in this role, she would have to grapple with real issues in the region, and she doesn’t have any experience there or in the diplomatic realm (though there’s an argument to be made that her entire life has constituted an exercise in public diplomacy).
Trade issues are always paramount in conversations between the countries, and the ongoing friction over territorial disputes between Japan and China is likely to be another top-line item, according to published reports.
Clearly welcoming of Obama’s decision to give Kennedy the post, the Japanese government issued a statement indicating that her appointment shows the “great importance” the US places on its relationship with Japan. In turn, Kennedy told the Senate committee that Japan is an “indispensable partner” and that the relationship between the nations has “global reach.”
If there is any remaining suspense in her appointment, it’s this: It will be interesting to see if she’s unanimously confirmed.
But that’s what happened Tuesday evening in Dallas as Robert Gates and Leon Panetta expressed their concerns about Mr. Obama’s decision last month to ask Congress for its support for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The men did disagree, however, about whether military action is ultimately necessary, with Mr. Gates opposed and Mr. Panetta in favor.
“When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word,” Panetta said during a panel discussion at Southern Methodist University.
He said Obama should not “subcontract” his decision to lawmakers. "Mr. President, this Congress has a hard time agreeing as to what the time of day is," he added.
Meanwhile, Gates said action “would be throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East.”
“Haven’t Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya taught us something about the unintended consequences of military action once it’s launched?” he said.
Gates also suggested that a diplomatic solution that would allow Russia to oversee and guarantee the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons reserves is folly and that Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t trustworthy. Obama has backed off his initial call for military action, which was received poorly in Congress and among the general public, in the hope that such a compromise could work.
Gates, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and was the only holdover from that administration to serve Obama, also said that a congressional vote against the president’s push for intervention “would weaken him.”
“It would weaken our country,” he said. “It would weaken us in the eyes of our allies, as well as our adversaries around the world.”
Instead, Gates said he would impose sanctions that marked members of the Assad government as war criminals and would increase support for credible allies within the Syrian resistance, according to The New York Times.
Now enjoying private life, both men are writing books about their time in Washington, and those who embark on memoirs often seek to make news to spark interest. But Gates and Panetta, a Democrat, are widely viewed within the political and intelligence worlds as practical, thoughtful, and experienced policy gurus. Neither is a showboater.
So these latest words from Gates and Panetta are particularly stinging, even though much of official Washington has weighed in with varying degrees of concern about how Obama has handled the Syria matter in the wake of a chemical weapons attack.
The headlines have played accordingly:
“Gates and Panetta Take Obama to Task,” Commentary magazine suggests.
“It is rare enough for current or former White House aides to publicly criticize a president still in office, as David Stockman and George Stephanopoulos notoriously did in the 1980s and 1990s respectively,” the magazine wrote. “It is virtually unheard of for senior cabinet members to do so. Which ... makes it all the more shocking and telling that two of President Obama’s former secretaries of defense – both models of discretion – have gone public with criticism of his handling of Syria.”
Another aspect of the pair’s remarks that worries the Commentary writer and others: They see in Obama’s approach to Syria a “dangerous signal” being sent to Iran.
“Iran is paying very close attention to what we’re doing,” Panetta said, per The New York Times. “There’s no question in my mind they’re looking at the situation, and what they are seeing right now is an element of weakness.”
Obama’s current Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, shrugged off the episode while declaring his “greatest respect” for his predecessors.
“Obviously, I don’t agree with their perspectives,” he said.
The problem for the president is that many others do.
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin in an opinion piece published in the online version of Pravda on Thursday, saying the Russian leader uses corruption, repression and violence to rule in his own interest.
“He doesn’t believe that human nature at liberty can rise above its weaknesses and build just, peaceful, prosperous societies. Or, at least, he doesn’t believe Russians can,” wrote Senator McCain.
The Arizona senator and former GOP presidential candidate billed himself as more pro-Russian than the current Moscow regime, saying he was dispelling the falsehoods Russian officials use to stay in power.
McCain focused in particular on Mr. Putin and his associates punishing dissent. The American lawmaker recounted the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who had accused the Moscow government of colluding with organized criminals, then was beaten and denied medical treatment while in prison.
McCain criticized the imprisonment of the rock band Pussy Riot after they were accused of staging an anti-Putin protest inside a Russian Orthodox Church. And he accused Putin of siding with a dictator by backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“He is not enhancing Russia’s global reputation. He is destroying it. He has made her a friend to tyrants and an enemy to the oppressed, and untrusted by nations that seek to build a safer, more peaceful and prosperous world,” wrote McCain.
McCain’s article was intended as a riposte to an op-ed by Putin published in The New York Times on Sept. 12. That piece criticized the US for threatening airstrikes against Syria, saying such an attack would be contrary to international law, and insisted the US should not think of itself as an exceptional nation, as “we must not forget that God created us equal.”
Putin’s op-ed stirred up controversy in the US, with some pundits saying his arguments made sense and reflected those made by domestic critics of the Obama administration’s approach to Syria, while others said that his approach was cynical hypocrisy meant to weaken Washington’s resolve.
Will McCain’s piece stir up a similar discussion in Russia? Perhaps not – as many commentators are noting today, its publishing circumstances were far from similar. The website Pravda.ru on which it appeared is not the same as the newspaper Pravda, which was once the flagship publication of the Soviet Communist Party, though today it has a much smaller reach.
Pravda.ru is a small site founded in 1999. It has English and Russian editions and covers everything from politics to fashion and celebrities, notes CNN.
It’s not clear if McCain’s effort was published in the Pravda he wanted.
“While editors at the communist Pravda publication said last week they were not going to accept an op-ed by McCain, a spokesman for the senator said McCain submitted one anyway, in addition to [submitting it] to Pravda.ru, since there was confusion over the two different Pravdas. As expected, it was not published by the newspaper,” writes CNN Thursday.
It’s still possible that McCain’s critique of Putin’s government could go viral, reaching more Russians than the circumstances of its publication would otherwise indicate. Some Russian dissidents were quick to react positively to the US lawmaker’s article, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“It’s an embarrassing moment, when a US senator seems closer to Russians than a Russian Federation Senator,” tweeted anti-corruption activist Pavel Senko, according to RFE/RL.
Meanwhile, a top Russian official was dismissive of McCain, saying that his article did not respond directly to the points raised by Putin in The New York Times. Putin criticized the US for often using force in the international arena, and “McCain does not say a word on the issue”, said Alexei Pushkov, head of the State Duma’s committee for international affairs, according to a report in Itar-Tass.
Congressional Republicans have long talked about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They’ve spent lots of time focusing on the repeal side of that equation, as shown by Wednesday’s news that the House will soon vote on a stopgap government funding measure that would strip all funds from the president’s signature health-care law.
But what about “replace”? There’s been less discussion in the GOP about what might come next if the party could successfully stop Obamacare. On Wednesday, the House Republican Study Committee attempted to remedy this situation by offering its own version of a US health system future: the American Health Care Reform Act.
(No, no one is calling this “Boehnercare,” after House Speaker John Boehner. Not yet, anyway.)
“While we continue fighting to repeal the president’s health care law, it is also important to lay out the reforms we stand behind and support,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana, Republican Study Committee chairman.
So what’s in it? At its heart, the legislation would replace Obamacare’s system of state health-care exchanges and government subsidies for lower-income Americans with a health insurance tax deduction of $7,500 for individuals and $20,000 for families.
The deduction would apply to both employer-provided insurance and plans purchased on the individual open market.
“This tax benefit will be portable, will provide payroll tax relief to the working poor, and will give families the flexibility to choose a plan that best fits their needs,” says a summary of the bill posted on the RSC website.
The bill would expand access to tax deductible health savings accounts and increase federal support for state high-risk pools, which provide insurance to those whose health conditions might otherwise price them out of the insurance market.
It would also allow insurance firms to sell health-care policies across state lines and mandate some tort reforms, such as a cap on attorney fees in medical malpractice cases.
These are “common-sense ... free-market solutions which giver American families more choices without the unworkable mandates and billions in taxes included in President Obama’s health care law,” said Representative Scalise.
Liberal critics say the tax deductions in the RSC proposal would possibly encourage healthy people to drop out of employer-provided coverage, and encourage employers to stop offering it. In general, the proposal contains little to actually expand the number of Americans with coverage, writes Jon Walker on the left-leaning blog "FireDogLake."
“This is not a universal health care plan and would probably produce a worse system than the one we currently have,” writes Mr. Walker. “Modern American conservatism has basically redefined itself to make any mechanism to get universal coverage incompatible with conservative principles.”
A "Star Trek"-inspired command center was once NSA Director Keith Alexander’s pride and joy, apparently. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it was it one of his chief means of impressing lawmakers and winning support in Washington’s corridors of power.
No, we’re not making this up. It’s a bit unearthed by Foreign Policy magazine in a lengthy profile of General Alexander titled “The Cowboy of the NSA.” When he was chief of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many civilian officials and members of Congress down to Fort Belvoir, in suburban Washington, to tour his Information Dominance Center, writes FP’s Shane Harris.
“It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a ‘whoosh’ sound when they slid open and closed,” writes Mr. Harris.
Alexander’s visitors were generally awed by the Trekkie atmosphere, including a swivel in the iconic captain’s chair. Then they were further awed by Alexander’s clear, folksy explanations of modern information technology. His approach to wooing the powerful has won him lots of political support in official Washington, according to FP.
There’s some question as to who actually ordered the Enterprise-like space. The Washington Post reports it wasn’t Alexander. It was built in 1998, according to the Post’s Emily Heil. Alexander did not take the Intelligence and Security Command job until 2001.
Here’s our question: Is there something about "Star Trek" that is uniquely appealing to the men and women who are running the United States? Because this isn’t the only example of the use of "Star Trek" mythology within the government.
In 2010 Internal Revenue Service staff members produced an entire spoof "Star Trek" video for an agency conference. The six-minute film – for a meeting whose theme was “Leading Into the Future” – was produced on an Enterprise set built at the IRS audio-visual studies in New Carrollton, Md.
This spoof featured a trip to the planet NoTax, where chaos ruled over order. The narrative developed, if that’s a word that applies, from there. The actors were actual IRS officials, who bought or made their own costumes. Thankfully, nobody said anything about going where no deduction has gone before.
Yes, these are only two examples, but they’re pretty elaborate ones, if you ask us. Do any New York banks have Star Trek-inspired command centers? Back in June, National Journal published a piece about how "Star Trek" actually explains the NSA – given that the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" TV spinoff featured an NSA-like electronic intelligence agency named Section 31.
Maybe it’s the sort of person who comes to Washington. As pointed out in “This Town,” the book exploring Washington’s insular culture by New York Times writer Mark Leibovich, it is the student body presidents of American who gravitate to the nation’s capital, not the jocks or artsy types. Perhaps these earnest types feel they are Captain Kirk, or Picard, at heart.
The US public strongly supports the Russian-proposed deal to junk Syria’s chemical weapons, according to two just-released major polls. But voters do not really think the deal will work, and pluralities continue to oppose US airstrikes against the Syrian government – even if diplomacy collapses.
What’s the bottom line from this chain of opinions? It appears as if US voters appear unconvinced that the nation has vital interests at stake in the dispute over Syria’s chemical weapons, despite President Obama’s insistence to the contrary.
“Survey results underscore the difficulty Obama has faced trying to convince a war-weary American public that what happens in Syria matters for the US,” writes the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan on The Fix political blog.
Let’s step back and take a look at the raw numbers to try and make sense of the public’s somewhat contradictory opinions here, OK?
We’ll start with what voters like. According to a Washington Post/ABC News survey released on Tuesday, 79 percent of respondents approve of Russia’s idea of putting Syria’s chemical weapons in the hands of the UN, which will then destroy them. Only 16 percent said they oppose the plan.
A Pew poll released Monday had similar figures: 67 percent gave thumbs up to Obama’s decision to delay airstrikes in order to give diplomacy time to work.
But if you dig beneath the surface with these surveys you find that the public has little faith that the Russian plan will actually work. Sixty-eight percent of respondents to the Post/ABC poll are at least somewhat confident that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad will not turn over his chemical arsenal.
In the Pew survey 57 percent of respondents said flatly that Syria will never give up its weapons in response to diplomacy.
“The public has little trust in Syria,” writes Pew.
That does not translate to support for US military action to deter Assad from further chemical use if the diplomatic track proves a dead end. In the Post poll, a plurality of 48 percent holds that Congress should not approve military action if diplomacy fails. Forty-four percent said Congress should approve such action. Again, Pew’s numbers are similar: 49 percent say they’d oppose airstrikes under such circumstances. Thirty seven percent would favor them.
Why the unease with the use, or threat of use, of the US military? According to the Post/ABC results, it could be because many voters don’t think it matters to the US. Forty-eight percent say America’s vital interests are not at stake in the situation. Forty-four percent say they are.
Looks like Obama’s prime time speech attempting to outline why the US is involved in Syria did not convince everybody.
As for Obama himself, a majority of 54 percent in the Post poll said he was a strong leader. The back-and-forth of his Syria policy does not seem to have affected that perception.
But that does not mean the public approves of the policy. Fifty-three percent in the Post poll said they disapproved of the way Obama is handling the Syria situation. Only 36 percent approved.
“Those numbers aren’t a vote of confidence for the Commander in Chief,” writes right-leaning talk show host Ed Morrissey on Hot Air.
One day after America’s latest mass shooting killed 12 and paralyzed a neighborhood near the US Capitol, talk on the street here is whether the tragedy will revive debate over expanding background checks for gun buyers and toughening gun controls generally.
The rampage in the Washington Navy Yard has spurred some to call anew for politicians to take the threat of gun violence seriously and to take meaningful action to curtail it.
"There's something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate," said MedStar Washington Hospital Center Chief Medical Officer Janis Orlowski as she updated reporters on the status of several shooting victims. "Let's get rid of this,” she added. “This is not America."
But those who are weighing the political impact of Monday's shooting are doubtful that Dr. Orlowski and like-minded citizens will see much new congressional activity anytime soon.
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President Obama and gun control advocates lost a legislative battle earlier this year to expand background checks for gun buyers, among other measures that had some bipartisan support. The families of many of the children lost in last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary shooting lobbied extensively for the reforms, and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a gun violence victim, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, were also prominent in that fight. But the proposals died in the Senate amid intense resistance from gun rights advocates and the gun industry.
At the time, Mr. Obama, with those parents and Ms. Giffords by his side for a Rose Garden press conference, chastised lawmakers for playing politics around the issue and misrepresenting the proposals. Uncharacteristically emotional, he called it “a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
“This effort is not over,” he said.
On Monday, in the wake of the massacre, the president called the shootings a “cowardly act.” But he made no firm pitch for more legislation, gave no fierce finger wag at lawmakers or the gun lobby. In the time since that April legislative loss, Obama has faced a string of political challenges that have weakened his already-tenuous sway over Congress: national security leaks and the latest international melee over how to handle Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons against its citizens, prime among them.
Even if he would like to press a restart button on the gun control conversation, he doesn’t appear to have the juice to make change at this juncture in his presidency.
It’s also not clear that the navy yard shooting has altered the Senate dynamics enough to support the case for renewed legislative negotiations over gun laws. The Washington Post reports that Obama and his allies “can’t point to a single new Senate supporter.” The paper’s headline also suggests that the “gun control debate has grown cold.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who sponsored the background check proposal that stalled earlier this year, won’t push for it again unless he can bring five new senators to his cause, Politico reports.
The Republican-led House would be even tougher to corral.
Nonetheless, even with a congressional battle unlikely, both sides lined up their usual arguments. Some conservatives reasserted their suggestion that the president and his Democratic friends want to take away the public’s guns. The Washington Times pounced when Obama said that, in Washington, the nation was facing “yet another mass shooting.”
“The last mass shooting was over nine months ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,” the paper wrote. “While we mourn every one of those children and educators lost that day – and today in Washington, D.C. – these events are not a cause for increased alarm.... Mass shootings are extremely rare and should not be described by the president as if they are a common occurrence. He does this to frighten people into believing that they are in more danger in order to get support for restricting Second Amendment rights."
On the other side of the debate, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence tweeted: “Incidents like the #NavyYardShooting will continue to occur with regularity until legislators stop allowing the #NRA to write gun policy.”
Despite uncertainties around congressional interest in another protracted fight as well as the political vulnerabilities of an overextended Obama administration, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, a leading advocate of gun control legislation, pleaded Monday with her colleagues to stand up to the gun lobby once and for all.
“When will enough be enough?” Senator Feinstein asked. “Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.”
And those Newtown parents, still wounded from their own losses, are ready to hit the Hill circuit again to advocate reform. The navy yard shooting has provided them with a new urgency. Fifty members of the Newtown Action Alliance traveled to Washington Tuesday to renew calls for legislators to enact sweeping background checks for gun buyers.
"We're not gonna go away,” Carlos Soto, the brother of a teacher killed at Sandy Hook, told ABC News.
The players are girded for action, but a burdened president and weary lawmakers are unlikely to host another round of advocacy. Not imminently, anyway.
Who is Vladimir Putin to tell Americans they’re not exceptional?
That was a general, bipartisan reaction in the nation’s capital and US politics in general on Friday to Russian President Putin’s controversial Thursday opinion piece in the New York Times.
Putin’s piece was a lengthy argument against any US strike on Syria and against the general US practice of intervention overseas. Parts of the article were bluster, such as his assertion that it was Syrian rebels who carried out the alleged chemical weapons attack of Aug. 21, not the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. Parts were unexceptional, in the sense that they repeated arguments made by domestic critics of a possible US military action in Syria.
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But the words of Putin that really roiled the nation’s capital were at the end, tacked on in a manner that almost seemed an afterthought. They were a direct response to President Obama, who in his Tuesday night speech to the nation referred to America as “exceptional”.
“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional ... we must not forget that God created us equal,” Putin wrote.
Game on, Vladimir.
First up was White House spokesman Jay Carney, who quickly defended the president’s exceptionalism assertion.
“Russia offers a stark contrast that demonstrates why America is exceptional,” said Mr. Carney. “Unlike Russia, the United States stands up for democratic values and human rights in our own country and around the world. And we believe that global security is advanced when children cannot be gassed to death by a dictator.”
Members of Congress were quick to wave the exceptionalism flag. Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, a presumed 2016 presidential hopeful, penned his own opinion piece for Time Magazine as to why the US is exceptional.
The US sense that it is different, wrote Senator Paul, is rooted in the nation’s founding values and documents, particularly the Constitution. US constitutional checks and balances have been on full display in recent days, wrote the Kentucky senator, as President Obama has turned to Congress for a vote authorizing military action in Syria, which Paul opposes.
“While Putin is correct that God created every human being as an equal in His eyes, clearly the results of each of our efforts on this earth, individually and collectively, are not equal,” wrote Paul.
Many commentators pointed to the Constitution and guaranteed US rights as exceptional, noting almost without exception that in Russia those rights have proved fungible over the years.
In Russia, gays and lesbians face officially sanctioned discrimination and anti-Putin journalists risk dismissal, or worse. But in the US, the First Amendment guarantees free speech and a free press, noted the right-leaning web site Red Alert Politics.
“Which ultimately is why we’re OK with the President of Russia publishing an op-ed hating on American exceptionalism in an American newspaper,” wrote Chris Deaton, Red Alert Politics managing editor.
To some extent, Putin’s jab at the US sense of itself may reflect Russia’s bitterness about its fall from superpower glory and America’s relative military and economic strength.
Russia’s “policy is, in many ways, a resentment-based policy. So if Obama embraces exceptionalism, he’s going to attack it,” said Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, in an appearance on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper.
The US has indeed done exceptional things, Mr. Goldberg argued.
“We defeated fascism and communism in a single century, that’s pretty exceptional,” he told Tapper.
Broadly speaking, American exceptionalism is not a new phenomenon. US citizens have considered themselves uniquely favored since the beginning of the Republic.
During the nation’s early years, the US populations was generally young and fast-growing. Many citizens were freeholders or landowners, and enjoyed a high standard of living compared to Europe, writes the eminent US historian Gordon Wood in “Empire of Liberty." Their sense of themselves as somehow purer than the Old World in a political sense was intense.
They may have lagged other nations in the fine arts but in agriculture, commerce, and government they felt themselves superior. “In this respect, America is infinitely further removed from Barbarity, than Europe,” wrote John Adams in 1780.
Fast forward to 1929. US communist leader Jay Lovestone reported to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that the American proletariat, generally individualist and middle class, wasn’t interested in a revolution of the workers.
Stalin responded by demanding an end to this “heresy of American exceptionalism," and an expression was born, according to a history of the phrase by Terrence McCoy in the Atlantic.
In the 1960s “exceptionalism” began to explicitly crop up in American political discourse as the Republican Party emphasized patriotism to win over a new crop of southern voters. But given continued US pride in the nation’s history and Constitution, this was one issue on which Democrats were determined to not be outflanked.
“American exceptionalism, along with flag pins shining from one’s lapel, is one of the rare issues where Republicans and Democrats agree,” wrote McCoy in 2012.
Thus, Putin hit a nerve. It’s not an accident that many US late night comedians focused on the Russian leader’s criticism of exceptionalism in their Thursday routines.
Putin must not get that America is a land of unique freedoms, and also unique sculptures of iconic musicians crafted entirely from foodstuffs, said Jon Stewart on the “Daily Show," in a segment dubbed, "Vlad the insulter."
“What part of ‘butter Elvis’ do you not understand?’ said Mr. Stewart,
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North Korea appears to have restarted the 5 megawatt gas-graphite reactor at its nuclear complex in Yongbyon. Satellite photos from Aug. 31 show steam rising from a building near the reactor hall that houses steam turbines and electric generators, according to a report from the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“The white coloration and volume are consistent with steam being vented because the electrical generating system is about to come online, indicating that the reactor is in or nearing operation,” write Nick Hansen of Stanford University and Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center on Nonproliferation on 38 North, the US-Korea Institute’s blog.
This reactor had been off-line since it was shut down in 2007, per international talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program. Those negotiations stalled long ago, and North Korea in April said it was going to restart the 5 megawatt reactor, even though it had blown up the cooling tower.
Given that we figured this was coming, is news of the restart still a big deal?
Yes. Yes, it is.
The primary reason for this is that the stakes are high. Once in full operation, which could take several years, the reactor would enable North Korea to produce 6 kilograms of plutonium a year to slowly increase the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile, note Hansen and Lewis.
Nor is it the only sign of renewed activity at the Yongbyon complex. Satellite imagery also indicates that a building housing a gas centrifuge plant for uranium enrichment has been roughly doubled in size.
Western intelligence is not certain that North Korea intends to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium at this newly expanded plant. But if it does, “doubling the capacity would allow for an increase in the production of enough weapons-grade uranium for up to two nuclear weapons per year, estimating that each weapon would require approximately 20 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium,” write David Albright and Robert Avagyon of the Institute for Science and International Security.
Combined, the reactor restart and the centrifuge plant expansion hint that North Korea may have an expanded, dual-track approach to getting its hands on more fissile material. In terms of US national security, that is a larger long-term threat than any chemical weapon in the hands of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
“Geez, maybe Syria and NKorea really are cooperating to make trouble on the WMD front. Or was [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] jealous at the attention Assad was getting?” tweeted proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
There is also a chance that North Korea is endangering its own citizens and others in the region by restarting a clunker. The reactor in question was first completed in 1986 and is a Soviet design that dates back to the 1950s, according to an unnamed Russian diplomatic source quoted on Russia’s Interfax news agency.
It’s possible it could fail, leading to an environmental disaster.
“For the Korean Peninsula, this could entail terrible consequences, if not a man-made catastrophe,” said the diplomatic source.
A US special envoy traveling in the region in an attempt to restart six-party on North Korea said in Tokyo on Thursday that if true the reactor restart reports are “a very serious matter.”
Special envoy Glyn Davies said renewed activity at the 5 megawatt facility would be a violation of North Korea’s own commitments and a series of UN Security Council resolutions.
“So this would be a step that we would regard very seriously,” he said.
First Lady Michelle Obama is adding a third pillar to her healthy eating and exercise platform: She wants Americans to drink more water.
“ ‘Let’s Move,’ meet ‘Drink Up,’ ” suggests the Washington Post.
The first lady, accompanied by actress Eva Longoria, will travel Thursday to Watertown, Wisc., – locational pun intended – to make her pitch. She is hitting the talk show circuit – “Today,” “Good Morning America,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and more – and she is involved in the launch of a new site: YouAreWhatYouDrink.org.
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Sam Kass, the White House senior policy adviser for nutrition who runs “Let’s Move!” says the project represents something simple we can all do every day to improve our health.
“We think that a positive, forward-leaning visionary campaign to inspire people to drink more water is going to be the most effective way to help people get the amount of water they need,” Mr. Kass said in a conference call with reporters, per the Washington Post. “We are going to keep it positive from start to finish.”
Who could argue with something so basic? We all know we’re supposed to drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day. Especially in the hot summer months. And, of course, we’re all made of water – 60 percent of the human body is composed of that purest of liquids.
“I’ve come to realize that if we were going to take just one step to make ourselves and our families healthier, probably the single best thing we could do is to simply drink more water,” Obama said in a press release. “That’s it – it’s really that simple. Drink just one more glass of water a day and you can make a real difference for your health, your energy, and the way you feel.”
So the White House might be unprepared for the wash of humor – and criticism – that could meet Thursday’s news of the endeavor.
“Michelle Obama hypes ‘Drink More Water’ Plan,” reads one Weekly Standard headline. And, after all, what will Jon Stewart and his late-night pals have to say about these latest water works?
Water is routinely touted as helping to do everything from reducing obesity rates to clearing troubled skin. But Politico is reporting that some experts see the pitch for more water drinking as bunk. Naysayers suggest most people should drink when they're thirsty and that they get the additional water they might need from foods, such as juicy fruits.
“There really isn’t data to support this,” said Dr. Stanley Goldfarb of the University of Pennsylvania. “I think, unfortunately, frankly, they’re not basing this on really hard science. It’s not a very scientific approach they’ve taken. … To make it a major public health effort, I think I would say it’s bizarre.”
At times, Obama has been knocked for pushing a nannyesque ‘eat your vegetables’ policy agenda. Others have suggested this self-declared mom-in-chief also has a Harvard Law degree and the intellectual heft to promote more substantive causes. At least in some corners of the political world, this latest flow of H2O advice from the East Wing could fuel both attacks.
The critics might crow: What’s next? Flotus gets on the oxygen bandwagon?
But as with everything that comes out of the first lady’s office, this campaign has a collection of backers, including the American Beverage Association, Partnership for a Healthier America, and more than two dozen water companies. Those who want to participate at home are asked to photograph themselves “raising a glass of water” and to Instagram it with #DrinkH2O. The shot then appears on the project’s site.
Look out, milk lovers and soda fiends. There’s a new beverage trending. Obama could be the best thing that happened to “plain water” since the plastic bottle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 43 percent of adults drink fewer than four cups of water each day, and 7 percent don’t drink any at all. The AP, on the other hand, notes a boost in overall water consumption.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that more than 1,500 Watertown High School students will greet the first lady this afternoon to help her launch the nationwide effort.
"Who would not be interested in meeting any first lady of the United States?" said Watertown schools Superintendent Cassandra Schug. "I just think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students."
But the paper also noted that a local bar, Rusty Nail, is featuring a message in advance of Obama’s visit. “Save Water, Drink Beer,” its sign reads.
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